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A recently improved trail connects the Hillsdale neighborhood to Robert Gray Middle School

CONNECTION PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN - A new handrail and steps were added to a steep trail that connects Robert Gray Middle School to Hillsdale neighborhood.

Many years elapsed and myriad bureaucratic hurdles were evaded before the first shovel struck ground.

But at a celebratory event in Hillsdale Saturday, May 12, residents, Southwest Trails Inc. members and Robert Gray Middle School personnel could finally cheer the completion of an improved trail that connects the school to the Hillsdale neighborhood and the Stevens Creek Crossing Housing Project.

"I want to thank all of the people who helped build this, lobby for it, make it happen," Southwest Trails President Don Baack said in a speech.

Before the renovations, the trail near the intersection of Beaverton Hillsdale Highway and Southwest 25th Avenue featured a steep slope, a rough path and no handrails. And in her attempt to improve the trail a few years ago, Robert Gray Middle School Principal Beth Madison fell and injured her elbow.

Baack and Southwest Trails lobbied the City of Portland for five years to provide funding for the project. And with the help of City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, it received funding in 2017. Months later, Baack received the permit to build the new trail.

The project, which included the implementation of steps and a handrail, required 325 unpaid hours of work and $22,000 in funding.

It will allow residents who live in the neighborhood to trek to Robert Gray Middle School safely, rather than braving the risky trail, walking around the neighborhood or catching a ride or bus to school. It will also improve connections to other areas of Hillsdale, according to Baack.

"This connection is a key way of getting to transit, Hillsdale park and Robert Gray school and connects neighbors to the other side of the highway," Baack said.

"I think this is so incredibly exciting today, having come here to this side of town seven years ago and realizing there's this whole vibrant neighborhood over here, but in order to just get to the school, (the path) you had to go down was nothing short of treacherous," Madison said in a speech. "This has been a long, long process so I think it's incredible that Southwest Trails PDX has gotten together with this kind of strength on behalf of the community."

The event also celebrated the work of Andrea Wall and other volunteers, who removed blackberry bushes and invasive species in the path near Southwest 25th Avenue that leads to the improved trail.

"She's come in and really improved it dramatically and made it much more beautiful," Baack said. "It's working together with people like Andrea that really makes this fun."

Wall has seen dramatic changes to the ecosystem in the area.

"When you start to restore areas like that, you're restoring a wildlife habitat," she said. "Rabbits, coyotes, birds I never saw before; bats are on the trail. That's really wonderful."

However, Wall said the job of restoring the habitat in the area is only 30 percent completed.

"We want to continue all the way down (the trail) and restore Fanno Creek," she said.

Baack said he would like to improve many more connections in Southwest Portland, but describes the City's permitting process as onerous.

"We feel a developer wanting to build a house doesn't ask neighbors if he can do it; he just goes and does it," he said. "We shouldn't have to go through any more busy work than a developer would. It's a lot less invasive on a neighborhood."

Baack said he has his eye on more than ten paths in Southwest Portland that need improvements and has submitted applications for funding the projects, but has not received the go-ahead from the City.

"What we're trying to do in all of our connections is to make it easier for people to get around and do so safely," Baack said.

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